You could sit Sachin Tendulkar down at a desk in front of a single camera, get him to read from the telephone book for six hours and it would be a box-office smash. Thankfully director James Erskine and the producers of “Sachin: A Billion Dreams” have more respect for both their subject and the filmgoing public in this entertaining 139 minute documentary on India’s most loved sportsperson and greatest cricketer.
For fans of Indian cricket and admirers of Sachin Tendulkar (the “billion” of the film’s title) there won’t be too many “I didn’t know that” moments as Sachin himself walks us through this authorised biopic. More a love letter than a true hagiography, the film begins with dramatised scenes from Sachin’s boyhood at seven and then eleven years of age, before embarking on a fairly linear account of his stellar 24-year career as international cricketer.
Interspersed with the match footage and the news clips we follow Sachin through his marriage to Anjali, the birth of his two children Sara and Arjun — the latter an aspiring batsman in his own right — and share the tragedy of the passing of his father while he was in England for the 1999 World Cup. We see Sachin the Dire Straits fan and Sachin the go-kart racer, yet the film doesn’t dig too deeply into his persona.
Alongside all the ups and ups of his career, there were some of the downsides: the two unsuccessful stints as Indian captain, the tetchy relationship with Mohammad Azharuddin and the match-fixing scandal that consumed the latter, and the huge national disappointment of India’s early exit from the 2007 World Cup.
Of the many teammates of Tendulkar’s who were interviewed for the film, Azharuddin was unsurprisingly absent. More of a surprise was the non-participation of his record-breaking batting partner from their Harris Shield schoolboy days right through to the Test arena, Vinod Kambli.
On the subject of the disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign, who would have imagined India’s then-coach Greg Chappell could come across on the big screen as such a hissable villain? Through footage borrowed from the documentary “Guru Greg”, he does here.
There are plenty of highlights from Tendulkar’s career on display in this film, a career that not only spanned India’s economic transformation but its cricket board’s rise to wealth and power as it learned to exploit the developing medium of satellite television.
The evolution of TV picture quality is on display as footage of Sachin’s 1989 Test debut is seen through grainy VHS tapes. But there was nothing substandard about the vision of India’s progress through the 2011 World Cup, the Final of which provides the climax to the film, tightly edited and thrillingly scored by AR Rahman, whose soundtrack is one of the highlights of this documentary. (No spoilers from me if you don’t know how the game finished up.)
The Indian Premier League, by the way, occupies less than a minute of this film — Twenty20 cricket is not, after all, a centrepiece of the Sachin Tendulkar story.
The emotional coda to the film comes with Tendulkar’s warm and dignified farewell speech at the conclusion of his 200th, and last, Test match in 2013.
In its first four days at the Indian box office, “Sachin: A Billion Dreams” has grossed 32.25 crore rupees, which is probably just as well if the reports of the BCCI’s asking price for use of match footage are true.
At two hours and nineteen minutes plus intermission, “Sachin: A Billion Dreams” never drags, although it probably does not warrant a place on the top shelf of sporting documentaries. A love letter to be sure, but a well-crafted one. It would likely have served well as a three-part TV series, which may well be its final destination for all we know.
In Australia it has been classified PG for “mild themes and coarse language”. I seem to recall Virat Kohli mumbling “shit” once.
For lovers of cricket, “Sachin: A Billion Dreams” is worthwhile, but as I was leaving the cinema, an elderly Indian lady said to me “I’m not a cricket person… but how good was that!” So take that as your recommendation.